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Why Microsoft brands some accessories for Surface but not others

However, some of those accessories have become muddled recently because the company also now makes its own laptops, desktops, and tablets under the Surface brand.

The recent – and quiet – announcement of the upcoming Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID is one example of an odd naming scheme. That keyboard bears a striking resemblance to the Surface Keyboard that launched with the Surface Studio in late 2016. Some of us around here began to wonder if the company was shifting the branding of its accessories from "Surface" to "Microsoft" to have a wider appeal to PC users without Surfaces.

The answer is a simple yet complicated. But, no, Microsoft is not making a branding change.

See all the Surface accessories at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Surface branding vs. Microsoft branding

The easy explanation here is it's the fingerprint reader that makes the new keyboard non-Surface branded. After all, if you bought a Surface Studio not only do you get the Surface Keyboard included but you also get Windows Hello facial recognition. In fact, all Surfaces starting with the Surface Pro 4 have facial recognition, making fingerprint readers redundant and likely less preferable – facial recognition is faster and easier to use.

Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID is not the Surface Keyboard ... but really kind of is.

Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID is not the Surface Keyboard ... but really kind of is.

I think the Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID is neat, but I won't be getting one because I use a Surface Studio. If you own an HP or Dell desktop, however, it's more tempting.

A more complicated answer to the branding question is that Microsoft must juggle multiple markets with different messages. If you buy a Surface PC, you likely want some official Surface accessories. It makes sense then to have Surface mice, keyboards, pens, docks, and cables so that the average consumer knows exactly what to buy. You must give Microsoft some credit for keeping accessory interchangeability consistent through each device cycle upgrade, too. You can still use the new Surface Type Cover with Alcantara on a Surface Pro 3, for instance. I can even get the new Surface Pro (2017) to work with the original Surface Pro 3 Docking Station.

There is a downside to that Surface branding, however. While most prosumers and tech-aware customers know a Surface Arc Mouse works on any PC with Bluetooth, your average shopper might not. That is very likely the rationale behind having both a Surface Arc Mouse (opens in new tab) and a Microsoft Arc Mouse (opens in new tab) that are exactly the same except for color difference.

"Oh, I see ... one is gray, the other is ... not gray."

"Oh, I see ... one is gray, the other is ... not gray."

While Microsoft's Surface branding stands for premium, it could also be exclusionary to shoppers who just want a nice keyboard or mouse. That's why there is the regular Microsoft branding for general accessories.

Of course, if you really want the Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint ID for your Surface PC, go right ahead and buy one when it's released. Windows Hello lets you use multiple bio-authentication methods. That means you could log in with your face or fingerprint. There some good usage cases for that, as well, including letting a family member use fingerprint for their account, while you use facial recognition – or vice versa. (Also, some enterprise groups just don't trust face recognition or they mandate fingerprint readers.)

Branding beneath the Surface

Finally, all this raises the bigger question of how Microsoft should use the Surface brand. It is very tempting to want to use it everywhere due to the positive brand image. Nonetheless, we've seen from the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL release that the Surface team only stamps its brand on products it believes in.

For now, I think it's best to keep Surface limited to a few select devices and accessories. There may be redundancies, but unlike Apple, Microsoft needs to cater to the whole PC world regardless if users own an actual Surface.

Now, if the company could just figure out the whole Microsoft Arc Mouse (opens in new tab) versus Arc Touch Mouse (opens in new tab) versus Surface Arc Mouse (opens in new tab) versus Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse (opens in new tab) versus Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition (opens in new tab) we'd be all set!

See all the Surface accessories at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

38 Comments
  • It makes sense if you work for Microsoft's marketing team...   cause their horrible.
  • Their horrible what?
  • marketing team.
  • He was making fun of your grammatical error. They're (they are) *
  • you've just schooled. lol!
  • "Got Schooled''...🤦
  • Actually I think you'll find it should be "been schooled" ("got" would suit if the sentence began with "You" instead of "You've")!
  • Touché, Mr. Grammar pants.😃😃
  • Got it...,  :-)   I saw it late..., tried to fix it, but using this site with chrome on my phone there are just too many ads my phone locked up.
  • Android🤦🏾🤦🏾🤦🏾🤦🏾
  • Except I see their name ALL over the NFL broadcast and all over television with the Surface and MS brand,
  • "Nonetheless, we've seen from the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL release that the Surface team only stamps its brand on products it believes in.''........ MS shouldn't be putting their name, let alone Surface branding, on any product that they don't believe in.... In fact, MS shouldn't make, or sell, any product that they don't believe is great in the first place.... SMDH
  • What @rodneyej said ...why put out products they dont believe in? If their marketing team had half a brain ..they would differentiate between Surface branded devices and standard Microsoft devices ...kind of like what Lexus is to Toyota and what Infiniti is to Nissan. From a consumers perspective, this makes things a lot more clear, so they understand the high end products from the standard everyday budget friendly products. From a business perspective, MS would be able to mark-up (and even repackage( the Surface branded devices) compared to their general Microsoft products. This would automatically allow consumers to know that MS has high-end hardware products that match (or even outdo) Apples. Arc mouse for example should exist only as a Surface branded mouse while their other more ordinary mice should go under MS branding (and whatever they choose to name them). Not only would they be making consumers lives easier but they would essentially be giving the Surface products the exclusive attention they deserve without much effort.
  • I love that the page for the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition has contradicting images. some show Microsoft Branding, others show Surface branding.
  • Would Apples marketing team make this mistake?
  • Nope. Although they have made mistakes in the past. Recent example is the iPad Pro where they claim it to be a full PC when it's still running a Mobile OS. Contradiction there itself. Mac vs iOS.
  • Lol.
  • Yeah, no. Wtf is MS thinking?
  • It's called ''not thinking''
  • I always have looked this way...a black keyboard its a Microsoft breanded because it can go with any color, on the other side to maintain consistency on the color of the Surface line, the Surface accessories must match the same color of the device.
  • Right, but the new Microsoft Modern KB w/Fingerprint ID breaks that idea lol.
  • Couldn't they just add this - Surface Arc Mouse*
    .
    * Works with ANY PC brand
    .
    $79.99
  • My example, if i had to choose between those two are mice, thinking well there the same but one says surface? To me it wouldn't matter but id buy the Microsoft one because it's black. I really wish the surface line had stayed with the orig surface rt coloring. I might be more inclined to buy newer surface stuff then.
  • Isn't the surface arch with four colors? Same as Surface laptop
  • Yea but i want a new tablet. Really want a mini surface. But yea.
  • it a good move if you don't own a surface
  • Does the arc mouse have a "back button"  or is it swipe on the top?
  • The fact alone that an article is written about this shows once again how horrible Microsoft is at marketing. All these reasons for this branding nonsense are utterly wrong. Look at any successful brand and they don't pull off this bullshit. If your product is good, people WILL FIND IT. O wait, Apple should have released another iphone under another name in case people are confused and don't want... Omfg shut the hell up.
  • I'm of the mind to keep the Surface brand for computing machines only (tablets, laptops, mobile, etc), with the only possible exception being the Surface Dial (even then, an argument can be made). 
  • "Some of us around here began to wonder if the company was shifting the branding of its accessories from "Surface" to "Microsoft" to have a wider appeal to PC users without Surfaces." Good article Daniel, but I can't fathom how people can be that confused about this. Microsoft has had a successful hardware business for a couple of decades, selling Microsoft-branded keyboards, mice, web cams, and other items. (Sure, Surface-branded peripherals exist, but they have always been targeted exclusively at Surface owners.) How can Microsoft "shift the branding" from Surface to Microsoft, when it had never changed in the first place? I think you are sowing seeds of confusion where it doesn't really exist. Possibly some were confused by the release of the Surface Keyboard. But that is easily explained as being a Surface Studio peripheral which is also made available for purchase separately. That doesn't mean that Microsoft was, or is, rebranding its long-standing PC peripherals business.
  • I think it was seeing Surface Keyboard get a fingerprint sensor and suddenly getting a brand new name; we also saw the release of the new Microsoft Arc Mouse, which is jus the new Surface Arc Mouse in black. So there was the question if new hardware was going Microsoft branding instead of Surface...
  • Daniel Rubino, in your article you mention being able to use your SP2017 to work in the SP3 dock. I tried it, and it required a lot of work to make it fit. The rounded edges make it difficult to slot. Am I doing something wrong here? I'd love to use mine with my SP3 dock, but I'm scared I'll damage my SP2017. Any suggestions?
  • Just change the name of the company to MicroSurface.  Problem solved.
  • Mirosoft namings is always confusing. They never learn
  • They'd just better use Surface branding for their next mobile device...🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄
  • or they can just call it like it is and call it the two soup cans with string.
  • I've had a Surface Arc Mouse since launch and no it didn't always work with any PC. Only Surface tablets had drivers and you had to get an intel driver over the OEM on your laptop to trick the mouse, and it still only half worked (had to re-pair on every reboot). My current laptop has drivers that support it, but still very frequently the pairing sleeps and I have to fold/unfold it. So IOW, initially, it wasn't just marketing, at least for the mouse
  • Hi
    I think the explanation about Surface branding, other complaints about the company's failure to project Hololens,   its whole treatment of its mobile users are just a few recent issues which add to the long term  conviction  that Microsoft very badly needs a  modern Marketing function to provide leadership in the world market place. It gives the impression it is  completely run by technicians and is outsmarted by all its competitors in its projection of itself Roger Stenson